Getting drunk is never technically a good idea, but it’s definitely a popular pastime for many of us. If you’re a responsible drinker, then that’s okay! Don’t drive, don’t hurt yourself, don’t hurt anyone else, try not to text your coworkers and things should work out fine. But we’re not here to talk about the responsible drinkers.
There are some people in the world for whom getting drunk is an even worse idea than normal. Doctors, for instance. Pilots. And soldiers. There are a few soldiers in history who should have stuck to milk.
10. General James Ledlie Got Drunk Before the Battle of the Crater
In the military, you have a command structure. Many people are on the bottom and a few are on the top. You hope that, at the very top, the person in charge of how the military runs, and how a battle unfolds, is smart, calm, and sober. That’s not always the case, and it wasn’t at the Battle of the Crater in 1864.
The battle took place during the Civil War, and General James Ledlie was a former engineer working with the Union Army. Before his involvement, there was an ongoing issue with Petersburg in Virginia, which became known as the Siege of Petersburg.
A colonel came up with an idea to end the siege by digging a mine and filling it with explosives. This would blow up enemy lines and clear the path to the city. General Grant was ready to use the explosion to seize the town and declare a victory. A day before the mission, the unit selected to lead the charge was replaced by the unit run by Ledlie. He got the job by drawing straws.
Ledlie was not a good soldier if the fact he’s been described as a “drunken coward” is any indication.
Four tons of explosives went off, the biggest explosion in history to that point. It created a 130-foot by 75-foot crater. It was also 35 feet deep. Many soldiers died instantly, and the force stunned others. Ledlie was drunk and hiding in a bunker when he was supposed to lead the charge. His men ran right into the crater instead of around it. The result was a bloodbath. Thousands died and Ledlie, who never joined the fight, was dismissed from service.
9. Van Zandt County Tried to Secede, Then They All Got Drunk and Captured
Back in the 1860s Texas was all about seceding. Or it was an idea that was popular at the time, at least. But not everyone was on board with that plan and, so the story goes, the people of Van Zandt County voted to secede from Texas. One of those “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” scenarios.
The county tried to secede first when Texas left the US during the Civil War and then again but this time not just from Texas, but from everything. The county formed its own rebellion and declared war on the United States.
Because of the rural location of the county, troops could not reach Van Zandt to quell the uprising so after war was declared, no one fought back. That was essentially a win by forfeit and what do you do when you win? You celebrate. So, everyone in the Free State of Van Zandt got drunk.
The next day, federal soldiers moved in and pretty much arrested the entire drunken county. Some of them escaped but by that time the idea of war was not floating anyone’s boat so they settled back in as proper American citizens.
8. Soviet Soldiers Drank the Cooling Alcohol Needed for the Mig25
Russians have a bit of a reputation as heavy drinkers and stories like this one will not change that perception at all. Back in the Soviet days, Russian troops had jets called the Foxbat, or the MiG-25. These were interceptors and recon jets and they were as fast as anything. But they were also nicknamed the Flying Restaurant.
The MiG used alcohol for a lot of things. It was a hydraulic fluid; it cooled the engines; it de-iced the planes and because it was so important they kept a hell of a lot on board. There was a 132-gallon tank of it on board and Soviet troops were known to dip in and drink some when the opportunity arose. The fact that they ended up giving it a nickname ought to be some indication of how often it happened.
7. Three Russian Soldiers Got Drunk and Blew Themselves Up at a BBQ
In 2023, three soldiers on a supply run in the middle of the Russian war with Ukraine decided to have a stopover at a house party, complete with a barbecue. The group was three out of five who had a few days to head out for supplies and used their downtime to get a little drunk and grill up some meat.
At some point, the drinking led to arguing. While two soldiers left, the three that remained pulled out a grenade and things got out of hand when it went off, killing all three of them. It’s not clear how or why it went off. Whatever the reason, it’s a solid demonstration of why you shouldn’t get into drunken fights with people who have grenades.
6. US Soldiers in WWII Mixed “Torpedo Juice”
With a name like torpedo juice you know this has to be good. Or horrifying. Or maybe both. In any case, in the modern world, you can go to a bar and order a torpedo juice right now. What you should get is a simple cocktail made of alcohol and pineapple juice. The basic makeup can change a little — maybe you want rum, or vodka, or gin. Who knows? But that’s it. Two parts booze to three parts juice. So what does that have to do with torpedoes?
Back in WWII, sailors on submarines were more hard up for drinks than most since, you know, they were underwater. A sub didn’t have a ton of storage space for booze at the best of times and, if they were on a mission, what little they might have had would inevitably run out. But the torpedoes on board used 180 proof grain alcohol as fuel, and it was more or less drinkable.
Once the Navy found out sailors were pinching the booze, they tainted it with croton oil to make it give the men cramps and diarrhea, and, well; they underestimated how much a man in a metal tube under the sea wants to drink. They simply had to distill the booze over again, remove the oil, and add juice to taste. Thus, torpedo juice was born.
5. Charles Jenkins Got Drunk and Defected to North Korea
Some people make terrible decisions when they get drunk. And then there’s Charles Jenkins who defected to North Korea. That ought to put all of your poor decisions in perspective.
Jenkins was stationed along the border between North and South Korea in 1964 when he was just 24. After 10 beers, he told his squad he’d heard a noise that he was going to check out and that was the end of that. He surrendered to North Korean officers because he was afraid of being sent to Vietnam.
Once in the country, he got to spend seven years studying the writing of Kim Il-Sung until he memorized it, in Korean. They also cut off his army tattoo with scissors. They forced him to marry a Japanese woman who had also been held against her will. They eventually fell in love for real and when North Korea released some Japanese prisoners years later, Jenkins’ wife was one. He, and their children, were later allowed to join her. That was in 2004, 40 years after his arrival.
4. A Town Escaped Destruction in the Thirty Years War Because of a Drinking Contest
You have to respect someone who can perform an incredible feat of strength, endurance, or drinking. It’s just hard not to. The mayor of the German town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber is one of those people who deserves respect. He saved the entire population of his town because he was an absolute monster at drinking wine.
In 1631, during the Thirty Years War, a Catholic named Count Tilly planned to sack and destroy the protestant town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. The people tried anything to get him to leave but there was only one deal he was willing to make. They had given him a tankard of local wine that held 3.25 liters. If anyone in town could chug the whole thing, he’d leave.
The mayor, with the powerhouse name of Bürgermeister George Nusch (Burgermeister basically means mayor), took up the challenge and downed that remarkable volume of wine in a single gulp. And, being a time of honoring one’s word, the Count left the town as he found it.
3. A Spanish Invasion Ended When the Invading Brits Got Too Drunk at a Winery
In 1625 things in Spain could have gone badly for the locals if not for the fact Brits really like to drink. A pair of noblemen had convinced Charles I that invading Spain would be a fine idea and maybe they’d get rich off of Spanish gold at the same time. One man, George Villiers, had a beef with the Spanish who hated him so much on his previous visit that they’d asked the King to execute him. So they hatched a scheme and set off for Spain.
Nearly everything that could go wrong did. Storms forced many of the ships back and also were avoided by the Spanish so there were no ships to loot. The British were running out of food and water and had to land at a city sacked years in the past that had long since improved its defenses – Cadiz.
The British couldn’t get past the wall so they plundered the abandoned buildings outside. There was no food, but they found stores of wine and proceeded to get incredibly drunk. By the time the Spanish arrived, all the British were drunk. Those that could escaped, and over 1,000 were slaughtered, probably still very inebriated. The expedition returned to England with nothing.
2. In 1916, Thousands of Drunken Aussie Soldiers Caused a Riot
Australia is known as a pretty tough place and the Aussie population are no strangers to enjoying a frosty, adult beverage now and then. They’re also known as a sometimes unruly bunch, which may explain the events of the 1916 Soldier’s Riot.
About 3,000 Aussie troops stationed in Sydney were already displeased with their lack of space, lack of leave time, and lack of alcohol in the canteen. Someone then informed them, on Valentine’s Day, that they were going to be doing four and a half hours more of training per week, putting them over 40 hours total. The men did not approve.
The Australians immediately left camp and went on strike. 3,000 of them headed into Liverpool, a small suburb of Sydney, and trashed the place. They broke into businesses, filled anything they could with alcohol, and trashed anything that sounded German.
The events turned violent, soldiers clashed with police and at the end of the day several were injured and one man died.
The events of the day ended up leading to a report on the military camp in Liverpool which suggested liquor should not be provided to soldiers from local hotels or public houses.
1. During Their Celebrations After the End of WWII Russia Ran Out of Vodka
Back to Russia for one last tale of absolutely epic drinking that seems like an impossible feat. There was once a time, at the end of WWII, when Russians ran out of vodka because they drank it all in celebration of the end of the war.
The end of the war was announced on the radio at just after one am on May 9, 1945. The entire country went ballistic and, a mere 22 hours later when Stalin made his address to the nation, no one had an ounce of vodka left to their name. Reports said no one had any left in stock on the 10th.
People were in the streets in pajamas getting drunk and everyone seemed to be getting drunk with everyone else, even those who never normally drank. In fairness, production had been limited because of the war so there was already less vodka in the country, but the celebration ensured that everyone had to start from scratch to get new stuff.